Without permission from the New Yorker.

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What Most Disqualifies Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court?

By Adam Gopnik October 4, 2018

A book that every young man and woman starting out in life these days ought to have handy is Dariel Fitzkee’s “Magic by Misdirection,” a classic in the magical arts written decades ago by a once famous American performer. It basically tries to lay out all the varieties of misdirection—the ways that you can be asked to pay attention to one thing while the performer is doing another. A staggering catalogue not of gaffes or gimmicks but of behaviors, it’s a study in all the ways of drawing your attention away from this thing I’m doing here to that thing I’m doing there. The repeated moral is that everything I’m doing may be something other than it seems, and it doesn’t matter how brazenly I do it; you’ll still buy it. Intricate to the point of rococo, Fitzkee’s book makes a distinction between, for instance, simulation and dissimulation: “Simulation is a positive act. It shows a false picture. Dissimulation is a negative act. It hides a true picture. One reveals and the other conceals.” A good magician can be simulating with one hand and dissimulating with the other, and you don’t know which is which.

Donald Trump’s genius for misdirection is to pile so many obvious ruses upon so many ham-handed sleights that the easily fooled parts of his audience are impressed by the audacity, while the more sophisticated parts of his audience, on left and right both, become so fatigued by the constant motion that they stop paying sufficient attention to the core point of the deception. One is put in mind of Houdini’s most famous illusion, the “Vanishing Elephant,” in which an elephant was led into a large box that, at least according to legend, was then spun around by a large crew of stagehands. The huge animal “disappeared,” but you could see that it took a crowd to do it. Houdini’s name remains famous, but he was not a great illusionist by illusionists’ standards; the persistence of the elephant was obvious, but if you had bought a ticket you stayed for the next bit. The story shows that, very often, the most brazen kinds of misdirection are the most successful, especially in the hands of a brazen performer.

All of which is to put us in mind of the truth that the Brett Kavanaugh drama—with all the debates over the layout of suburban Maryland houses and the parsing of the repeated use of the letter “F”—is a distraction. Kavanaugh is not unqualified for the Supreme Court just because of something that he may have done when he was seventeen, or because of how he may have lied to the Senate about this or that specificity of his youthful behavior or about how he may have accepted illicitly obtained Democratic e-mails when he worked in the George W. Bush White House, or about his possible involvement in the effort to make torture seem acceptable. (Kavanaugh maintains innocence on all fronts.) He became disqualified for the Supreme Court the moment that he accepted the offer from Donald Trump. At this stage in his Presidency, Trump, already described in reports from his own aides as unfit for the office, implicated by his former lawyer as an unindicted co-conspirator in a felony, and now alleged, according to the Times, to have benefitted from tax schemes that in some instances amounted to “outright fraud”—not to mention being a liar and a con artist—should not be allowed to appoint Justices for lifetime appointments.

Whatever the effect of this truth on vote-counting congressional Realpolitik, it is the moral ground upon which all subsequent argument has to begin. Trump’s purpose in appointing Kavanaugh to the Court was clearly to provide himself with a protective vote for whenever one issue or another arising from his misbehavior makes its way there. Kavanaugh’s convenient late-arriving conviction that Presidents should be protected from investigation—late arriving since he evidently felt very differently when he was pursuing Bill Clinton—is catnip to Trump. And anyone who had illusions about Kavanaugh not being an acolyte of Trumpism should have been disabused by his partisan performance last week, in which he made it quite apparent. That’s the deal. That’s the trick. Everything else is simulation and dissimulation. Everything else is misdirection. However it happened, the elephant is supposed to have vanished. And yet there is still an obvious elephant in the obvious box.

The maddening part of this misdirection is the unwillingness on the part of people who imagine themselves to be full of good will to say who Trump is and what he remains. It has become an element of the orthodoxy of this moment that Trump is not the “cause” of all his catastrophes. Of course, he’s not the cause in some ultimate and singular sense, but Trump is the cause of Trumpism. No, he is not uniquely responsible for the existence of a revanchist core of white men who so fear the assertion of minority power that they will go to almost any lengths, and make any deal with any devil, to prevent it. That core has been a consistent feature of American life since the post-Civil War period. President Ulysses S. Grant basically faced the same two parties: a party that accommodated what is now called identity politics, reaching out to a coalition of people—those African-American, Jewish, Native American, and Irish petitioners whom Grant tried to favor—who thought that the world was getting better and who supported some kind of benevolent government protection, and a party rooted in a base of revanchist whites who believed that the world was getting worse, who wanted to keep other groups from exercising too much political power, and who hated the federal government for helping them.

But Trump is the direct cause of turning this enduring American fact into an active threat to democracy itself. There is no thread of double-sidedness to this process. Barack Obama may have had many faults, from his timidity on Syria to his timidity in pursuing the Russia investigation, but no sane person can accuse him of having been an immoderate or a non-conciliatory voice for his base. Indeed, his mistake was to vastly overestimate the reservoir of conciliation on the other side. That’s why he tried to appoint Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court—a judge who had been cited by Republicans as an acceptable candidate—in the innocent belief that they actually meant it. Two-sidedness is, in itself, a classic piece of misdirection, designed to draw your attention as much to the hand that isn’t doing anything as to the hand that is. Trump’s assault on the premises of democracy is not only unique in modern American history but unique in the annals of modern liberal democracy. No duly elected leader of any mature democratic state has gone on repeated public rants against his enemies, fed cries of “lock her up” directed at a political opponent, or routinely threatened and abused a free press. No such democratically elected leader has openly sneered at women. George H. W. Bush was doubtless angered by Anita Hill’s testimony, but he would no more have come to a rally of his followers and slandered her name and libelled her testimony than he would have mocked a journalist for his disabilities. He had some saving sense of the Washingtonian residue in the American Presidency.

This is Trump, and Trump alone, degrading American politics, and we should not get lost in side debates and sideshows. Some may be wringing their hands about the unending and presumably two-sided intolerance of red for blue and blue for red. But there is no figure in the Democratic Party who in any respect shares Trump’s rhetoric or mirrors Trump’s threats or repeats Trump’s hatreds. Such figures exist only on the fringes of the left, whereas Trumpism has now become the central and defining faith of the Republican Party.

The issues that Kavanaugh’s past behavior raises are crucial ones, and there is time and the need for a deep dive into the persistence of sexual assault and the necessity of hearing out victims and recognizing pathological cultural patterns. But do not let the simulations and dissimulations distract you. Kavanaugh is an instrument of Trumpism, an insurance policy that the con man is writing for himself. The rest is misdirection.

This is my father’s mother’s mother’s father — which makes him my great-great grandfather — John Weiry Rudisill, in his Confederate States of America uniform, and his ‘fearsome’ beard, which apparently he sported until his death April 24, 1885.  Rudisill is an Americanization of the Swiss German Rüdisühli or Rüedisüli.

Once in my own lifetime I hosted a beard just this impressive in its own right.  One day, however, something told me its time had come and I marched to the mirror with a pair of scissors and it was gone.  I was surprised at how easy it was to part with.  Today I know that I am far too neurotic for a beard.

Looking at the photo of John Rudisill, Stephen says I have the same cruel eyes.  Another picture from my ‘Media’ trove puts the lie to that.

Cruel eyes!  What a lot of nonsense…

I have tried repeatedly to decide where the needle on the wry meter is on these thoughts, or if indeed it’s on dead zero.  But, no matter.  I am not persuaded to deviate from believing that this person belongs in the pantheon of great writers based solely on this paragraph.  So there.

Do you remember the old Blogspot blog Lazy Circles?  I say ‘old’ because the current iteration is about computers and cars, and written in Indonesian, for heaven’s sake.  The old blog was hosted by a gay attorney from Texas — lots of showbiz posts — and when he announced that out of some necessity he was shuttering Lazy Circles, my reaction was ‘You can’t do that!’

It started to occur to me a couple of months ago, that it was probably time to consider shuttering Domani Dave.  Though I’ve made a wonderful handful of connections over these nine years, at this point I feel more than a bit like a looney just talking to himself.  That’s not supposed to sound boo-hooey.

Wandering though my WordPress ‘Media Library’, which still contains the entire trove of pictures I have attached to posts since 2009, I’ve hit upon the idea to post some of those during my anniversary month of October, just for the hell of it.  I think that will be fun, but I’ve been wrong before.

By the way, the rest of the title of this post is …δεν θα πάνε ποτέ τέλεια.  It translates:

If things don’t go perfectly from the outset, they will never go perfectly.

I like this sentence partly because it’s a tiny Greek language lesson in itself, but mostly because it’s s’darn bleak;-)

In no particular order… actually in sort of a particular order.

-1-   I don’t have a tattoo.

-2-   Please don’t think Māori or Irezumi.  Different subject.

-3-   Let me get the deranged curmudgeon conclusion out of the way.  I think the reason people get tattoos so cavalierly these days, whether they realize it or not, can be summed up with “I don’t have a future, there is no future”.

-4-   Here is a tale told previously on Domani Dave.  In my former workplace, there was once a sweet and bright and bookish student worker who approached me about her desire to get a tattoo.  She wanted a sun theme, and wondered if I had any suggestions to research a design.  I said maybe English garden gates, or tansom windows in the UK, sun-starved as those people are, as I had recalled just such a book of photographs.  She had success with that suggestion, found her sun and got her tattoo.  When she displayed it (on the back of her calf), my reaction was that it looked like a gunshot wound.  I did not tell her this.

-5-   Now for the nuts and bolts, as I understand them.  If you get bright colors in your tattoo, those will fade very quickly.  What remains is blue-black.  Tattoos for the most part these days are applied so inexpertly that other elements will also come into play.  The depth the ink is ‘inserted’ into the surface of the skin is apparently extremely important.  Injected too deep, the ink will drift into the lipids in the skin and begin a process called ‘clouding’.  No matter how crisp your tattoo in the beginning, eventually you have something out-of-focus and black and blue, rather like a bruise.

-6-   Who gets tattoos these days is a never-ending source of astonishment to me.  Longshoremen and bouncers?  Of course.  Petite jeune filles in their sundresses?  Tyler, Justin, or Brandon with their ‘sleeves’?  And when and if this pandemic subsides, what is the future pariah-potential for these trendy youths?

I am willing to be corrected, confronted, or rebuked outright on this topic, though actually, I cannot recall a single bonafide rebuke on Domani Dave.  [sigh…]

Two posts in rapid succession on Domani Dave is uncommon, but not unheard of.

After viewing the Diego Rivera murals at the headquarters of the Secretaría de Educación Pública building in Mexico City, we had a couple of hours’ energy left, and sought out the Mumedi Mexican Museum of Design, five or six blocks away.

Our phone GPS kept telling us that we had ‘arrived’, but to our frustration, it was nowhere to be found.  Then, finally, I walked to the opposite side of the street, turned around, and behold: an enormous graphic on a tarpaulin covering the scaffolding on the front of the building, with a small passthrough to the interior.

BTW, I worked for a good while to get a single figure passing by in that lower left space, but still got this lousy result.  Lousy or not, images clickable, as usual.

Apparently between shows, the building interior itself was worth the visit, and wandering through the all-things-considered-pretty-nice obligatory museum gift shop, I espied this display of Frida Kahlo-themed wallets.

Just a guess, but I don’t imagine Señora Kahlo would have found the [Disney’s ‘Frozen’] ‘Ilsa’ variation amusing.

We, on the other hand, did.

Well before our trip to Mexico City last week, we had booked a tour of ‘Casa Luis Barragán’, the private home of architect and engineer Luis Barragán, who died in 1988.  The tours are very small, and we had to choose a Spanish language one, because the English language ones on the days we would be in Mexico City had already been filled.  Our guide spoke English from time to time as a courtesy.

The previous two photographs are stolen from the Wikipedia article on Luis Barragán.  Notice the void underneath the stairs in the second one.  I shot the following picture of our tour guide explaining Barragán’s play with colored light throughout the house, in this case created with a yellow glass door at the top of the stairway to the terrace.  (All photos clickable…)

In our world of hyperbole, I would say it’s risky to use the word ‘transcendent’, but there it is in the first sentence on the casaluisbarragan.org website.  At this point, I leave it to you to investigate Luis Barragán, or not.

By the way, while we were in Mexico, we availed ourselves of some ‘procedures’ not medically permitted in the States, including one favored by the late Marlene Dietrich, lamb placenta injections.  There was a problem matching our current passport pictures during our return home, but I think it was worth it.

While I’m trying to build up enough steam to write a not-too-extensive post about our trip last week to Mexico City, here is an über-bitter snipe about the teen-rape allegation against the United States Supreme Court nominee.

Brett Kavanaugh and his team need to get together with Justice Clarence Thomas to come up with something catchy like Thomas’s “high-tech lynching” to scare off the naysayers to his own nomination.

The problem is, I don’t think there is anything coequal for a person with a history like Kavanaugh’s of just being a little garden-variety entitled prep school asshole.

We watched the memorial for John McCain staged in Washington DC today.

I was moved by certain thoughts and quotes, and certainly certain music triggers, but truth be known, the whole while I was interspersing the experience of my own father’s funeral, fifty years ago this coming April.

The one thing I was particularly struck by at my father’s funeral was the measure of bewilderment in the demeanor of the people there.  The implications of that were a comfort to me at the time.

Senator McCain apparently planned the structure and details of his own funeral.  Fortunately, the luck he always said he’d had in life was with him to the end, as nothing fell apart in the execution.

Stand-alone, it seemed a ‘tonic’ for the nation’s psyche at this time.

I share with John McCain the sense of having been lucky in life.  If there is a point to this post, perhaps it is to share that fact with you.

In all honesty, I have been unnaturally lucky.  I may, in fact, have come by some of the luck you were due.

I would appreciate your not holding this against me.

As I approach my ninth anniversary (October) here on Domani Dave, to say you may have noticed that I’m running out of steam would be a tad presumptuous.

I am rawther (to borrow a spelling) fatigued.  Not remotely ‘because of’, but we are headed to Mexico City in two weeks.  The newly retired Stephen wants to travel.  I have myself turned into one of those can’t-leave-the-house sorts.  Well, almost, so the idea of this voyage is wearing me out.

I’ll be delighted when we get there, but now, I’m a pain in the ass.

I’ve been absent in the comments of my blog pals, and here, and while I in no way consider the attached pictures ‘place-holders’, I have even less to say than usual, so here is at least something.

All photographs ought to tell a story, some kind of story, but I want more — something like a small movie, apparently.  I love all three of these pictures.

Two gentlemen peering outside at the protesters at the recent G7 in Canada.  Donald Trump’s physician scurrying.  And John McCain.

All three are clickable; please do.

Why am I telling you this?

I started blogging in 2009, but in October 2016, I ditched the previous posts in a fit of cyber housecleaning. Some of it was really nice writing, but alas, as my old friend Susan once said: ‘Compulsion is a cruel master’.

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